Fantasia International Film Festival is having its 20th edition this July and I am proud to say I have only missed 4 of them, the first one, 2006, 2012, and 2014. That being said, I’ve played catch up and seen some of the films from those years and can say without a doubt that Fantasia International Film Festival plays a fantastic selection of films from around the world, with a penchant for the odd, the weird,. And the often overlooked by mainstream movie goers.
In celebration of their 20th edition and in preparation for this year’s selection, here are 20 films from the past editions, based on those I’ve seen, that I believe are absolutely worth looking for. In no particular order, they are:
Ichi The Killer (Japan) (2001)
Miike’s story of a killer with so much blood spilled and bullets shot that should be reason enough. This film is insane and insanely violent, a good introduction to Miike for anyone not familiar. His extreme style and violence permeate this film which is entertaining and mesmerizing. It’s not for the faint of heart and should shock a few.
Sur le Seuil (Evil Words) (Canada) (2003)
This French-Canadian horror film based on the book by Patrick Sénécal is an intriguing story of a writer who cuts off his own fingers when his stories become too real to handle. The religious and supernatural angles make this one a particularly good watch as well as very Quebecois. The acting is great, the story is good, the effects as well. The way this one develops makes it worth searching for.
End of the Line (Canada) (2007)
A young woman rides the very last train one night along with a few other late night regulars. To anyone who rode those trains in any city, that alone is creepy enough, but here they add end of the world religious nuts and some very nasty baddies to make this a hellish night. These baddies are badass and make for one fun night (for the viewers).
Lascars (France) (2009)
Based on a short format animated series, it’s not necessary to be familiar with it to have fun with the feature length film. This one is a bit crazy and funny with good French hip hop/rap (yes, French rap) and one of the characters is voiced by Vincent Cassel. The story is simple, 2 guys from the projects want to go on vacation but their plans are thwarted and they are stuck in the cite where all kinds of things go wrong. To convince anyone that it’s worth seeing, check out this video.
Musa The Warrior aka The Warrior (South Korea, China) (2001)
An epic story of the underdog and the princess with crazy good battle and fight scenes, this one took my breath away on the big screen and still works on the small screen. The acting is good, the music fitting, the cinematography pulls you in, … It’s a great one for lovers and newbies to Asian epics.
The Convent (USA) (2000)
Nuns versus evil, evil nuns, fluorescent blood, crazy insanity, directed by Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider!), what else do you need to know? This one is completely insane and boat loads of fun. Yes, it’s cheesy, yes it looks like its low budget, but who cares, it’s a huge blast.
Natural City (South Korea) (2003)
Natural city is a sci-fi film in the vein of Blade Runner where human-like robotic dolls take on the roles of entertainment and company in which a young police officer falls in love with a dancing doll as her expiration date approaches. This film is a sad tale of love and despair, of finding hope where there is none. Sad and beautiful, touching while a bit depressing, the story and film are highly effective.
Psycho Beach Party (USA) (2000)
Just like an old school surfing musical but with more murders. The music is super fun; the characters feel right out of a beach film. The story is simple or so it seems. It’s an easy watch of a summer film with blood and mayhem.
Saving General Yang (Hong Kong, China) (2013)
A classic story of filial piety, the general’s sons do all they can to save him and his honor. This epic story by director Ronny Yu is well done and has amazing battle scenes shot in a way to see all the fighting, not shying away from it or over editing it. The acting is very strong, the costumes are stunning. It’s a bit long, but absolutely worth it.
Returner (Japan) (2002)
Returner is a sci-fi, time travel story starring Takeshi Kaneshiro in the title role. That should be enough on its own, however, there is so much more. Returner is one of those crazy sci-fis that may not actually make much sense at first glance but does once one delves deeper into it. A fun over substance film yes, but also very worthy contender of its genre.
Stir of Echoes (USA) (1999)
Based on the book by Richard Matheson, Stir of Echoes is a creepy story involving a man losing his mind over possible ghost(s) contacting him for help. It’s well shot, very well acted, and very well crafted but it got overshadowed at the time of its release by the hugely popular The Sixth Sense. To this viewer, Stir of Echoes is a lot creepier and much better, definitely worth a watch on a dark night.
Shaun of the Dead (UK, France) (2004)
If you haven’t heard of or seen this one, do yourself a favor and seek it out. This parody of zombie movies is a perfect send up of the genre and the first film in the Cornetto trilogy. Whether or not you are into the zombie genre or even horror films is not that important, the film is funny in or oout of that context. The zombies are a back drop for a fantastic comedy. The trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost is downright magical here.
Helter Skelter (Japan) (2012)
A model becomes obsessed with fame, beauty, and youth as her career depends on it. The more she gets, the more she wants. This tale of a young woman with many vices is a good representation of society, of a society obsessed with instant fame and eternal youth and beauty. This one doesn’t even have an IMDB page (at least under this title) that I can find, so it might be near impossible to find.
Imaginaerum (Finland, Canada) (2012)
An old man in a coma relives his childhood memories and fantasies, mixed together by his dementia. The story is beautiful and touching told through mesmerizing images and a soundtrack by Nightwish which is stunning all of its own. This soundtrack will make you want to watch the film over and over.
Attack the Block (UK, France) (2011)
South London is under siege from gang violence, that is, until it becomes under siege by an alien invasion. For a lot of sci-fi fans, their introduction to John Boyega came courtesy of Star Wars The Force Awakens for others, it come courtesy of Attack the Block. To see where Boyega came from or a great alien siege/invasion film with an original take on the aliens, Attack the Block is necessary. It’s a fun sci-fi romp from the UK with so much to love.
Dead End (France) (2003)
This Ray Wise and Lin Shaye film from France takes place almost entirely in and around a car with a family on their way to a relative’s Christmas party. As they take a short cut, they find themselves telling all their secrets as they wonder if they will make it to their destination alive. This family drama/horror movie is full of surprises and incredibly well crafted. Wise and Shaye give great performances and the whole film works so well, it needs to be seen.
Malefique (France) (2002)
Four men share a prison cell, trying to make the best life they can while doing their time, when they find a book hidden in a wall. This book of black magic gives them hope, hope of possibly getting out. This one starts off almost normal, like a prison drama, and then it takes a turn for the bizarre. This one is worth seeking out for the ending alone; however the rest of the film is also very good.
Doghouse (UK) (2009)
In a small town where all women have become cannibals with a penchant for men after being infected, a group of friends, all males, arrive to help one of them get over his divorce. Doghouse was a complete surprise, a funny action/horror film where a group of friends do what they can to survive. The characters here are in part based on real people and the writer and director have a ton of fun with this story.
The Warlords (Hong Kong, China) (2007)
Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro, together in one film, that alone should be enough to make anyone who’s a fan of their careers or Asian cinema want to see this. This take on “The Assassinatin of Ma”, the story of the killing of General Ma Xinyi is a beautiful epic story of war, brotherhood, and the Qing Dynasty.
Thanatomorphose (Canada) (2012)
I was originally very split about this one, but do strongly believe that like most polarizing film, it must be seen. Thanatomorphose means to rot from the inside, which is what is happening to the lead young woman in this film. The story and characters are a bit thin, but the subtext and what each viewer can take out of it are worth at least a watch. The effects alone are worth rewatching multiple times if one can stomach them.
Of course, it was difficult to choose only 20 films for this and the first few years of the festival are not well represented as I was too young for a lot of the movies playing, but this list is a good start. Also highly recommended and fairly easy to find: Trick ‘R Treat, Tucker & Dale vs Evil, We Are Still Here, Bubba Ho-Tep, Turbo Kid, and Deathgasm et al.